Lena Dunham won’t be your Gwyneth: “Girls” plus Rookie does not equal Goop

15 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Coming soon to your inbox: Lena Dunham’s newsletter.

Right now, I have 865,430 emails in my inbox, so you might think I would roll my eyes at the prospect of another item filling it up on a regular basis. Whether she’s sharing her views on marriage in The New Yorker or empowering sexual assault victims by discussing her personal experiences, Lena Dunham makes no secret of her opinions.Lena Dunham and her Girls co-showrunner and production partner Jenni Konner announced Tuesday that they’re launching a weekly email newsletter for smart young women called Lenny. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, the oldest and most iconic, has brought us $995 cashmere throws and and “conscious uncoupling.” Plebeians wishing to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous can also subscribe to regular emails from Blake Lively’s Preserve and Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James. Dunham’s partner in producing Girls, Jenni Konner, will help her with the project, which aims to gather “like-minded intellectually curious women and the people who love them, who want to bring change but also want to know, like, where to buy the best tube top for summer that isn’t going to cost your entire paycheck,” Dunham told Buzzfeed.

Lenny, which you can sign up for now but will start arriving in inboxes in September, will feature a mix of personal essays and articles about politics, fashion and entertainment, all from a contemporary feminist perspective. The newsletter will be headed up by former Jezebel and Slate editor Jessica Grose, with additional contributions from associate editor Laia Garcia and editor-at-large Doreen St. I’m aware that to the younger generation, that’s passé; on a recent family vacation, my 13-year-old cousin said she pretty much only uses email to send and receive school assignments, otherwise she’s all about Snapchat. But I’m three times her age, and no matter how often I refresh my Facebook feed and visiting my favorite sites, I always seem to have some form of digital FOMO.

Lenny will cover “feminism, style, health, politics, friendship and everything else,” and it, too, will make money by recommending products and taking a small cut of their sales. Though Dunham has received massive criticism on the Internet, the Girls star told BuzzFeed she wants Lenny to remind people that “the Internet has the power to take you into quiet places — something we don’t usually use it for.” Lenny also hopes to create an expansive, all-inclusive conversation on feminism, and provide young women with relatable stories on female friendships, gender identity and women in the workplace. “Women spend so much time trying to align themselves with an image in the media that they can’t match,” Dunham told the site, “that their hostility towards themselves and others becomes overwhelming.” And while Dunham doesn’t mind the “pop-culturization of feminism,” she wants women interested in both political debate and fashion to form their own brand of feminism with Lenny’s help. “I’m thrilled to see Beyoncé standing in front of the word ‘feminism.’ How can that hurt us?” Dunham said. “But at the same time, it turns into a misunderstanding in which people think of feminism as ‘It’s feminist because I’m a woman and I’m doing it.’ And that’s not how it works.”

So I am an avid newsletter subscriber, and what I’ve noticed is that there’s a conversational tone to many of the newsletters I receive that offers me something valuable and different from what I’d get visiting the authors’ social media pages. Over time, advertisers will be be added into the mix, particularly ones that collaborate with “independent female artists and designers in ethical, affordable and witty apparel and design items,” Konner says.

If you feel the knee-jerk urge to compare Lenny to lifestyle sites like Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, go right ahead; Dunham doesn’t mind. “We love Goop,” she said. “Jenni and I have always been obsessed with Goop. That said, Lenny isn’t aiming to be a feminist newsletter so much as a conversation, according to Grose. “The internet feminism conversation can be very circular and limiting and exclusive,” she said. “And it saddens me to see that a lot of the competition is about saying ‘you’re not feminist enough’: trying to kick people out of feminism rather than bring them in. Also, unlike with a website full of links, I don’t have to worry about losing the link to a newsletter when I click through to something and invariably get distracted and keep clicking.

Instead of hiding behind ghostwriters, Dunham has announced that a trio of well-respected editors—led by former Slate senior editor Jessica Grose—will write the newsletter and edit submissions from freelance writers. Eventually, Dunham hopes to make Lenny more than just a newsletter: BuzzFeed notes that it will “morph into a something of a website-letter hybrid,” in a similar vein to Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop. In what I hope is a hint of emails to come, the Lenny signup page features, among other images, a photo of Konner and Dunham posing with Roxane Gay, a writer many readers would happily welcome to their inboxes. For those who avidly follow the Girls creator and actress, she is already very active on Twitter and Instagram, so much so that when she posts her plans to grow her armpit hair, it makes headlines. Dunham has campaigned for Barack Obama, sponsored events with Planned Parenthood, written about being raped, and exhibited her voluptuous body on large and small screens.

Instead, she’s hired Slate contributor and former Jezebel writer Jessica Grose, who also has her own personal newsletter Grose Thoughts, as editor-in-chief, Rookie writer Laia Garcia as associate editor and freelance writer Doreen St. With her unabashedly feminist attitude, Dunham is to celebrity newsletters what Jezebel was to your average ladymag when it launched back in 2007: a much-needed injection of realness.

While some twenty-somethings still want to claim Dunham as “the voice of their generation,” this is a chance for Dunham to use social media to highlight other voices and move the conversation hopefully a little away from her own opinions in order to include a wide range of voices, who may or may not always agree with her. But there are reasons to think a newsletter might avoid the outrage cycle that ladyblogs often fall prey to: As Grose explained to the Cut, a newsletter “doesn’t have this pressure of pageviews,” which ideally means editors can focus more on editorial quality and less on getting clicks.

Grose likened Lenny to “Rookie’s big sister” (Rookie is the online magazine run by teen fashion sensation Tavi Gevinson) or “Goop meets Grantland.” I’ve never subscribed or even read the much-maligned Goop, brainchild of Gwyneth Paltrow, because my impression’s always been that it offered little more than offerings from Paltrow’s life, which, as a freelance writer who struggles to make rent and can barely boil water, seems far removed from mine. While Goop seems tailor-made for hate reading, given its often rarified interests, Lenny is starting with a platform that seems to already have built-in appeal to both Girls viewers and readers of sites like Rookie and Jezebel.

At The Frisky, Megan Reynolds asked, essentially, why bother with Lenny, likening the language surrounding its launch to the male-owned Bustle. “Are we so far behind that we need yet another publication to prove that women are capable of processing complex dualities of thought? But aside from the fact that there’s certainly room for different kinds of voices and perspectives in online media serving women (see also: Vice’s soon-to-launch Broadly), I think it makes perfect sense that someone like Lena Dunham would want to launch a newsletter.

There’s no comments section (and won’t be one, according to Buzzfeed, when the newsletter eventually heads online), so while readers will be able to email Lenny’s editors, those communications won’t be public, though Lenny does have its own Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram accounts and users can interact there. Which is good, because even though Dunham could probably launch her own artsy hipster version of a shopping site a la Ellen DeGeneres or Reese Witherspoon, that is something I don’t think the world needs. Considering that Dunham had Planned Parenthood join her on her book tour and is an advocate for reproductive rights, I would expect that to be woven into Lenny’s content in ways that speak to the specific concerns of young women.

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